Professor of literature and media at Paris-VIII-Vincennes-Saint-Denis, after having taught in the United States and Switzerland, Yves Citton co-directs the review Multitudes. He is also director of the EUR ArTeC university research school (arts, technologies, digital, human mediations and creation). His latest work, Do with (Les Liens qui libéré, 192 pages, 16 euros), is interested in political conflict, and invites us to rethink fronts and strategies by “dealing with” enemies, problems, limits, rather than seeking to eradicate them.
We need to understand how to act in cultural battles to thwart threats of civil war “bubbling under our feet,” you write. What do you mean ?
I try to understand what seemingly superficial polemics are shielding, on single sex, the right to blasphemy, the denial of systemic racism, which we will be astonished in the decades to come that we have given them so much. importance, while we are not doing extremely important things, which bind future generations. We are witnessing a radicalization of the right, which instrumentalizes these “cultural wars”.
The divisions that play out behind the controversies are not, however, without articulation with more fundamental things. I lived in the 1990s in the United States, where cultural wars were played out around issues such as the right to abortion, family values, the sacralization of the national flag. The Republicans were able to seize on these questions to give them more political force. They took the opportunity to carry out political repositionings which led to putting in power people like the Bushes, father and son, then Donald Trump, which had direct dramatic consequences on essential issues such as public services or fossil fuels. . On the right, a real expertise has developed in this field, while the left undergoes them, by grumbling or falling into the trap of controversy.
So do cultural wars particularly undermine the left?
Yes. The cult of the little difference has led to a pathetic weakness of the movements of the left. We must relearn how to differentiate our real adversaries from those to whom we may be allergic, but with whom we should nevertheless form tactical coalitions, so as not to lose much more important fights. This is especially true on questions of woke or from cancel culture. Several university colleagues feel alienated by these “extremists” who block sessions on Roman Polanski or who count speaking times in general assemblies. But, even in their inevitable excesses, we must rather see the energy, the vigor, the capacity of mobilization of these movements. Beyond allergies surface between multiculturalists and universalists, anti-colonial and decolonial, the priority is to obtain a minimum of unity to bring about the social transformations on which we actually agree.
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